Cummins’ Engines in the Premier Manufacturing State

By March 22, 2006Report from America

Report from AmericaNot everyone knows that the nation’s premier manufacturing state is Indiana. Yes, Indiana. Over the years, the Hoosier state is consistently ranked as having more of its economy stemming from manufacturing activity than any other state in the union. Other states have larger manufacturing sectors, but none can match Indiana in terms of the share of Gross State Product.

I’m out in Indianapolis today to speak to a group of manufacturers. Since I was here, I piggybacked a visit to Cummins down in Columbus, about an hour south of this big city…

It used to be Cummins Engine, but they streamlined the name a few years ago. But engines is still what they do and it was indeed fascinating to tour their Columbus Midrange Engine Plant where the diesel engines for Dodge Ram pick up trucks are made.

I don’t think Frank Lloyd Wright designed any manufacturing plants, but he would love this place because it respects the terrain on which it is built in the way his famous houses do. Approaching the plant, only some glass walls are visible. Parking is on the roof of the building, to minimize the impact of the plant on the surrounding area. The real surprise is the amount of natural light everywhere in the plant. Large windows help illuminate the interior and from most of the production lines, daylight is everywhere. It was sunny today and the effect created a very pleasing facility. Few modern offices have this kind of lighting.

The Cummins engine is an important part of the Dodge Ram branding. In fact, Dodge puts the Cummins name right on their trucks. You won’t find many other brand names on cars and trucks other than the original equipment manufacturer’s own name. But the quality and durability of Cummins is so well known, that Dodge proudly uses it on their trucks.

These are powerful, 325 horsepower engines and it is fascinating to see them assembled from the stripped down engine blocks, with over 300 parts being added to a single engine along its path through the sunlight plant. Engines are tested at many points along the way to ensure reliability. Technology is applied everywhere, from the overhead system that methodically moves engine from station to station to the robots used to paint a clear sealant on the engines when they are nearly done. RFID is now just being used in some industries, but has been a standard tool here for over a decade. One of the most interesting new technologies is an infrared reader that checks bar codes and stores the information for analysis of certain parts later on.

The Cummins CMEP plant has about 1,000 employees, almost equally divided 50/50 between men and women. Manufacturing is no longer just a man’s world, if you still have that misimpression. Some employees have full college educations and others two year degrees or high school degrees. The plant runs on 3 shifts and produces 750 engines a day. Way back in April 2003, they shipped their millionth engine, so this is an American manufacturing success story.

Investors Business Daily thought so and a week or so ago, they printed a story where they noted that Cummins, in 2005 “reached a tipping point. For the first time, the international slice of the company’s total sales became the majority 51%. It wasn’t as if US sales were hurting. Last year, the US segment grew 11%. But international sales expanded even faster at a 25% clip.” I’ll blog some more about Cummins tomorrow. What an incredible company demonstrating the best of what modern US manufacturing has to offer. In a state full of such successes.